(l. to. r: the fake picture, the real John Warren, the real Adolf Hitler)
In 1933 a picture supposedly showing Adolf Hitler as a baby began circulating throughout England and America. The child in the picture looked positively menacing–its fat mouth twisted into a sneer, with dark, squinted eyes and a greasy mop of hair. The image was distributed by Acme Newspictures, Inc. and appeared in many newspapers and magazines. In October 1933 the Chicago Tribune printed it alongside a photo of the adult Hitler addressing 500,000 farmers and storm troopers, above the caption, “Two Pictures of Hitler.”
However, the picture did not actually show Hitler; the German consulate in Chicago wrote a letter to the Tribune, sending also a copy of an authentic photograph of Reichs-Chancellor. Subsequent investigation by Acme Newspictures found that the hoax came from the syndicate’s London bureau, through Austria. In 1938, one Harriet Downs of Ohio recognized it as a photo of her son by a former marriage, John May Warren. However, in the original image the son looked cute, bright, and wholesome. An unknown hoaxer had evidently darkened the shadows around the child’s face and also distorted it to give him a more sinister look.
Tragically, the young John Warren died a few months after Acme issued its correction, when he fell from his bicycle and pierced his heart on a milk bottle. Soon, the Second World War would break out and the picture would endure almost a legendary status as the manifestation of evil Hitler. As the Winnipeg Free Press summed it up when it ran the picture, “This is a picture of a man who controls the destiny of a mighty nation, as he appeared when he was not quite one year old. Do you think this photo is prophetic of the figure he has become? The picture is one of Adolf Hitler, who was born in 1889.”